Ring them bells!

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By the time you read this, the amazing series of events leading up to Christmas will be just about finished. No, not the last-minute shopping, or the mad rush to finish wrapping presents, buying food and drink supplies, etc. I mean the many projects, initiatives and events that are the work of so many volunteers in our North Grenville community, all designed to make sure that no individual or family is left out this Christmas. Food, toys and supplies of all kinds have been donated, collected, sorted and delivered in astonishing amounts this year – possibly more than in any year before.

It is almost a cliché to say that this is a caring community: it is a fact that is proved again and again, and not just at Christmas. But, somehow, this season brings out the best in people, the generosity, the caring and the willingness to put oneself out for the sake of others. When you think about the Mountain of Toys, the Sally Ann Kettle Campaign volunteers, the mind-boggling $35,000 worth of food collected through the Fill-a-Bag Campaign, initiatives by Rotary, Kinsmen, and just about every church congregation in North Grenville, and many more that can go unnoticed, it’s hard to see where people find time to do their regular work, shopping, and recreation!

There is something about this time of year, the Christmas season, that is different. People act differently, they respond to the idea that we need to be caring and generous, that family and friends are important parts of life, and that people without those things need to be included somehow. Some call this “the true spirit of Christmas”, but what is that? There are two versions of the holiday in competition with each other, especially over the past couple of decades.

One is the traditional, what may be called the “religious” view – CHRISTmas, complete with carols and hymns about the birth of Jesus, Wise Men, mangers and nativity scenes. This makes sense: after all, what is Christmas but the celebration of Jesus’ birth? It doesn’t really matter that December 25 was just a handy pagan holiday lifted by the Catholic Church as a date to adopt for the occasion. The fact of the birth of Jesus, the way in which that event completely changed the world, for believers and non-believers alike, makes it one of the most significant events in history. We have even changed how we calculate time to mark it. Whether you call it 2017 A.D. (Anno Domini, “the year of the Lord”), or 2017 C.E. (Christian or Common Era), makes no difference either. He is at the centre of history.

Christmas is a specifically Christian event, but open to all to enjoy. Over many years, it has been almost overwhelmed by secular additions: rather like a Christmas tree being almost hidden by lights, tinsel and various baubles. We have added Santa Claus, holly, reindeer, decorations, even Christmas trees, but the reason for the season is still the same. So, what is the true spirit of Christmas? It is celebration, joy to the world, gift-giving and a desire for peace for all.

The competing tradition wants to remove all the “religious” elements from the Holidays (as some like to call Christmas, forgetting that the world “holiday” comes from the words “holy day”, not much of an improvement for the non-religious). Those promoting this approach to Christmas want to replace Christ with an X, as in Xmas (again, forgetting that the “mas” part comes from the word “Mass”, as in “Christ’s Mass”, which comes from the Old English). That just seems silly, really. What sense does it make to try and pretend that this festive season has nothing to do with religion, Jesus, or the supernatural?

I am often forced to wonder why people react so badly to the idea of Jesus, religion, and all of that kind of thing, especially at Christmas. Even if you don’t believe that Jesus is God, even if you reject any spiritual reality at all, what did he do to annoy people so much that they want to remove him from such a joyful celebration of peace, generosity and goodwill? At the very least, here was a man who told people they should love one another, even their enemies. That they should forgive hurts, do good, care for the sick, the hungry, the poor, the young and the old. Aside from a period when he was very young, he never left his homeland, held no political position, worked most of his life as a carpenter, and lived such a life that even his opponents could find no genuine charge to lay against him.

And yet, they killed him. Strange world, isn’t it? Terrorism, wars, murders of schoolchildren, the destruction of the planet… Yes, given all that, let’s enjoy these few days of warmth, peace, generosity and caring in our community. We have so much to be grateful for (to whomever you wish to be grateful), so much to value and appreciate in our friends, family and neighbours. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could carry that into 2017 and throughout the coming year? For now, let’s be thankful for the reason for the season, and remember that wise men still seek him.

From everyone at the North Grenville Times: Happy Christmas to you and yours.

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